Living in Vermont, sometimes it feels like I live in a liberal bubble.
Dictionary.com defines Liberalism as “a political or social philosophy advocating the freedom of the individual, parliamentary systems of government, nonviolent modification of political, social, or economic institutions to assure unrestricted development in all spheres of human endeavor, and governmental guarantees of individual rights and civil liberties,” and according to Gallup, Vermont was ranked the second most liberal state in the US in 2014 (which honestly surprised me, I thought we would be #1.)
Most times, it feels good to live in this bubble and I do it happily – I am generally surrounded by like minded individuals who have very liberal and progressive views. I have the pleasure of having great discussions about our political, social, and economic systems that need reform and improvement and in our household we openly discuss these issues with our daughter and help her understand these complexities at a young age. I guess this is typical of one’s social circle – it’s perfectly normal to be surrounded with those who have the same values and beliefs and quite natural to consume content that is agreeable with one’s political and social standings.
This bubble also exists within the world of social media, where families, friends and professionals communicate with others on a daily basis connecting individuals and sharing news and life events. Today social media is being used to effectively distribute news and information and to bring together large groups of people to work toward a common cause. It is in this world, specifically the comments section, that my liberal bubble bursts on a regular basis.
In the last few months, I have been shocked, saddened and had my heart broken with what I have read in the comments section of prominent news stories here in Vermont. Most of these stories reinforce the liberalism of our great state, yet a very different view appeared in the comments section.
In October, local news outlets reported that Ku Klux Klan posters were distributed to the home of two people of color in the Burlington area. The police began an investigation into the matter and indicated that this activity was suspicious since the person specifically targeted two people of color and delivered the posters to their homes which made them feel threatened and unsafe.
The investigation ultimately led to an arrest and charges of a hate crime.
Naturally, I was interested in this story and was reading all relevant news stories. Although many of the comments were appropriately supportive of the investigation and sympathetic with the victims, some of the comments horrified me. What I found even more shocking is that the comments were not anonymous – that these people were openly claiming support for the KKK and genuinely believed that the perpetrator was exercising their freedom of speech and that police were wasting their time and taxpayer money.
More recently, after the horrible tragedy in Paris many US politicians began publicly stating that Syrian refugees are not welcome in this country because they pose a threat to our national security. This is an incredibly complex issue with many layers. Shortly after the attacks Governor Peter Shumlin is one of the few politicians nationwide who announced that Vermont will help the refugees and that he has faith in the government’s screening process in weeding out those who would actually pose a threat to our security.
In response to the Governor’s comments, many were posting comments on the various news stories. To my horror, most of the comments were protectionist, unwelcoming and a few downright hateful. The arguments range from the belief that all Syrians are terrorists and want to kill us, so why should we help them if we can’t even take care of our own.
For me, as an immigrant to from a middle eastern country, and a mother to a black daughter, these sentiments are scary and disheartening. It makes me realize that even in Vermont, ignorance and hatred exists and that I have to be vigilant to protect my family from those who hold these values.
But more importantly, I hold on to the fact that sometimes the minority has to scream louder to be heard and that in our great state, we have a strong tradition of taking care of one another and welcoming and helping those in need.